Second Thoughts: Labor votes spice up summer campaign
by Jon Mendelson
Jul 20, 2012 | 4420 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The two months after a primary election are typically the doldrums of the election year cycle. But things remain plenty interesting in Tracy, from the bottom of the ballot to the top of the ticket.

For my money, it’s far more interesting at the bottom.

No fewer than five people seem set to run for two Tracy City Council seats, and a recall election of one director in Mountain House is giving that community a taste of political hardball only four years after the town’s first election.

But so far, it’s been the 5th Supervisor District race between Tracy City Councilman Bob Elliott and Tracy Planning Commissioner Rhodesia Ransom that’s drawn the most interest from donors.

Both of the Tracy residents are seeking to replace Leroy Ornellas on the county’s governing board after defeating Tom Benigno in the June 5 primary. And each is likely to break the $100,000 mark in donations by the time of the Nov. 6 general election.

In fact, it’s likely they’ve cleared six figures already.

As of May 18, the most recent date for which figures are available from the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, Elliott had received $73,783 in total contributions in the calendar year, and Ransom $79,639.

Elliott had received far more cash — $62,652 to $40,366 — but Ransom had outdrawn Elliott $39,273 to $11,131 in terms of nonmonetary contributions.

But where this ostensibly nonpartisan race really gets interesting is its tinge of red and blue politics. Battle lines are being drawn, and the campaign finance reports bear them out.

Elliott has received considerable money from Tracy-area land owners, developers and business people, according to his campaign finance reports.

He also counts the support of Sheriff Steve Moore and many prominent south-county politicians, several of whom are traditionally aligned with the conservative side of the left-right spectrum.

Ransom, meanwhile, has been endorsed by numerous local educators; the local sheriffs, correctional officers and probation officers associations; and members of the Tracy Democratic Club have largely been on her side so far this election cycle.

She has also received more than $30,000 in support from the Service Employee International Union in the form of consulting and mailers, according to campaign finance documents.

That union backing is no mystery — Elliott has taken a hard line on employee compensation, and the county has plenty of union workers.

In the most recent round of Tracy employee negotiations, the City Council approved contracts with six labor groups that call for employees to pay their share of pension contributions and a larger portion of their health insurance premiums. Over three years, the city projects those contracts will save about $940,000 and put the city in position to save even more thereafter.

Elliott was the lone councilman to say that wasn’t enough.

As recently as Tuesday, July 17, Elliott called “too generous” Tracy’s decision to eliminate unpaid furloughs and give city employees flex leave time in exchange for their concessions, a trade I considered fair, if not perfect from either employee or employer perspective.

In fact, Elliott has voted against the six labor contracts that include such compromises from the city’s side — the only member of the council to do so.

Because the other councilmen were solidly behind those contracts, there was no worry about the middle-ground savings strategy not passing.

That freed Elliott to establish himself as the fiscal conservative in the supervisor race, a position he subtly staked out in his 2010 council campaign.

But those votes could also drive even more labor allies into Ransom’s camp, a development that would make the lead-up to Nov. 6 interesting indeed.

Former foe becomes ally

Supervisor Ornellas lost his bid for a spot in the 5th State Senate District race in the June 5 primary.

He was soundly beaten by Assemblyman Bill Berryhill and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani —proof that the clout of a Sacramento legislator is tough to tangle with, even for a politician with solid local connections.

Ornellas ended up endorsing Berryhill in a statement July 5.

“Bill and I saw eye-to-eye on the major issues important to our valley communities,” said Ornellas in his statement. “Bill will protect our Delta from powerful L.A. interest groups and work to derail the high-speed rail project before it costs taxpayers billions of dollars with no significant return on investment.”

That Ornellas would endorse his fellow Republican isn’t surprising. What was surprising, to me at least, was his primary election tactic of running to the right.

To my mind, Ornellas’ greatest strength was his reputation for independence and pragmatism as an elected leader. And his campaign slogan “No More Bull in Sacramento” spoke to a candidate who pledged to forgo the special interest largesse, partisan gridlock and institutional incompetence gripping the Legislature.

I thought Ornellas’ no-tax pledge was contrary to that narrative and played against the very things that made him an attractive candidate in the first place.

• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by Editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at jmendelson@tracypress.com.
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